The secret to make new retail customers love your business: their first impression

A long, long time ago I worked in a sales role. It was an interesting experience and it taught me a lot – mostly that I didn’t want to work in a sales role, even though I was pretty good at it.

One of the things I remember most was a training session on the difference in cost between acquiring new customers and retaining existing ones. This mattered because I got paid a higher bonus for signing up new customers and a lower one for getting existing customers to stay. And so I paid careful attention. 

I think about that whenever I have a bad experience with a retailer that I haven’t bought from before. In fact, I had one of those just a few weeks ago and I wrote about it here

Destroy it yourself

I also think about it when I have a good experience with a retailer that I haven’t bought from before – and that’s what I’d like to tell you about now. If you’re reading this from the UK, you will know that Brits’ favourite Easter tradition is some kind of DIY project. This is how I spent my Easter weekend in early April – moving approximately half a tonne of soil 150 metres from the back of my garden to a skip on my driveway. By hand.

So, naturally, I bought myself a new wheelbarrow to make the job easier. I could have bought it on Amazon, but I didn’t (sorry Jeff). Instead I bought it from a small, independent retail business. 

When I unboxed it I discovered it was damaged. It was the weekend, so there was nothing much that I could do about that. I sent off an email to the retailer explaining the situation and asked them to arrange a return.

A very human returns process

Now, with someone like Amazon this is one of the simplest processes imaginable. It’s seamless, frictionless, and most of all automated. It won’t surprise you to know that I wasn’t expecting the same kind of service from an independent.

And I was right.

Instead, I got a very human response. It wasn’t seamless and frictionless. There was a problem with getting confirmation from their courier that my return pick-up had been booked. But at every stage they were friendly, polite and most of all human. They sent a little note and a small sweet as an apology. It’s a little thing but it really matters. Because that gesture is something I am unlikely to forget. 

That should be a lesson for any retailer – all retailers, actually. 

There is a cliche that you never get a second chance to make a first impression. Finding new customers is a constant challenge for any business especially in a sector as fast-moving and competitive as retail. When you get a new customer you need to do everything in your power to delight them and make sure they come back. That’s even more important if something goes wrong.

There are different ways of ensuring you make a great first impression in Retail. But none of them happen by accident. The biggest difference between those retailers – and delivery businesses – who delight customers and those who don’t isn’t resources or technology or anything like that. It’s all about commitment. 

It is possible to ensure a new customer gets your premier delivery service, not the regular one. It is possible to ensure that if anything goes wrong you immediately try to fix things. It is possible to quantify the lifetime value of a customer, even if it’s only an estimate.

All of which can be used to help you determine different levels of extra customer care for new customers. But you have to want to do it.


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